The cycling leg of a triathlon is like the second half of a match that's bound to go into extra time: if you've left yourself too few reserves, there's a good chance you won't make it.


At first glance, it may seem to you that cycling's the easiest of the three triathlon disciplines. After all, it's simple enough: all you have to do is get on your bike and push the pedals… But beware, if you don't take this part of your triathlon seriously enough, it can cost you dearly. Being a poor swimmer will put a few extra minutes on your time, but messing up the cycling leg can cost you anything from ten minutes to over an hour, for longer-distance events!!! This article will give you a few pointers on how best to tackle the cycling part of your triathlon. We'll go over such topics as the right attitudes during training and what to avoid. And we'll finish up with how to structure your sessions properly.


Every cyclist has his/her own pedalling style: no two cyclists are quite the same. To come up with a training programme that's right for you, you first have to know what type of cyclist you are:

You're a climber: you have no trouble on the uphills, and your legs go round and round as fast as a windmill to push you ever onwards and upwards. Your heart can beat very fast without you getting out of breath.. You can therefore be classed as a speed cyclist.

You're a sprinter: with your remarkable muscular strength, you're very fast over short distances. However, you tend to struggle when faced with slopes. You can be classed as a power cyclist.

You're a jack of all trades: at ease everywhere, just as happy climbing as crunching down hard on the pedals. You can be classed as an all-rounder. Beware of being overly confident if you think you're an all-rounder: in point of fact, genuine all-rounders are few and far between... most sportsmen and women are predisposed one way or another,towards either speed or power.

How to determine what type of cyclist you are

To find out what your own predisposition is, go for a test outing. Warm up aerobically (easy breathing) for 20 minutes. Then pick a relatively flat 5- to 8-km route (a loop) that you'll cover twice at full speed, the first time on the highest gear. Take a 10-minute break to recover and then do the same loop, this time pedalling a lot faster: the idea is to introduce frequency, so you'll have to pick a gear that makes pedalling easier - that is, a lower gear. Time yourself on each loop, and listen to your body and the sensations you experience. If you find the first loop easier, then your predisposition is that of a power cyclist. If the opposite is true and you're more at ease on the second loop, then your predisposition is that of a speed cyclist. If all goes well, you should now know what type of cyclist you are. If, however, you're still not sure, then repeat the exercise on a route has uphill sections.



Whatever type of cyclist you are, the structure of training will be more or less the same. What will differ is the manner in which you do the exercises in each of the various phases.

The duration of yor training plan is determined by the amount of training required to prepare for your triathlon.

- The first third of your preparation will be dedicated to core endurance; working on your breathing capacity (you're laying the foundations for your future physical condition). The distances covered will be no greater than the distance you'll be covering on the day of the race. During this first stage of training, you won't be very out of breath when you come back from your outings, and your legs won't be burning.

- The second third of this triathlon training plan will revolve around specific work, gradually increasing the intensity and duration of the sessions (you're building up your physical condition on solid foundations). The distances you cover will be equal to, and sometimes also greater than, the race distance.

- The final part of your training preparation turns down the heat: you'll go easier on the pedals and decrease the number of outings so as to enter the overcompensation phase, during which you'll attain a higher physical state and be fresh on the big day.


Your weeks of training are based on two principles: endurance work and specific work.

ENDURANCE WORK takes the form of a long outing with uphills. The distance covered will be, at minimum, the same as the distance you'll be covering during the race. The aim is to accustom your body to the effects of long-haul efforts, and to reap the benefits of your specific training by putting them into action over longer distances.  

SPECIFIC WORK will take place over much shorter distances, and the duration will also be shorter than for endurance work, but with a far greater intensity of effort. Uphills are also more than welcome during these sessions; they'll yield even better results.

As you surely know, if you wish to progress in a particular sport, you need do two sessions a week. Two sessions that have to be fitted into your triathlon training plan...You can't do everything, so you're probably going to have to pick your battles, taking stock of your strengths and areas for improvement in order to decide whether or not cycling will be your battlehorse as you prepare for your triathlon. By the time you start your specific work sessions, you should know what type of cyclist you are, in order to concentrate on your strengths. There's no "right" way to cycle: a speed cyclist can be just as effective as a power cyclist, achieving the same results but with a different method. So: stick to your own cycling style. If you're a speed cyclist, pedal at the same frequency as in your specific work training sessions. Similarly, if you're a power cyclist, set a higher gear and keep crunching down hard on those pedals.



Specific work sessions takes the form of interval training at high intensity, as opposed to core endurance sessions that are done at an easy breathing rate or at low intensity. During this type of training, you'll alternate between moments of intense effort (at speed) and recovery phases (going slower), and you'll repeat this alternation several times in a row. This will strengthen your heart, which is lord and master of your cycling performace. Training at the right pace will increase your heart rate and muscular capacities, pushing your limits further and increasing your fitness. Here are a few examples of exercises to do during your specific work sessions:

- To work on your endurance threshold: Set blocks of 20 minutes during which you'll work at a more intense pace than your basic endurance level. For those who have a heart rate monitor, that means working at between 75 et 90% of your maximum heart rate. For those who don't, a good indicator is that you won't be able to hold a conversation while exercising at this pace. Ideally, repeat the 20-minute blocks 3 or 4 times. Remember to warm up for 20 minutes before starting the exercise. The more you progress with your training, the more you'll be able to extend the duration of the repetitions.

- To work on your VVO2max: After a warm-up, a good method to adopt is the 30/30: 30 seconds of sprint, 30 seconds of recovery. Repeat this 10 times. You can also increase the duration of repetitions, according to how far you've progressed in terms of fitness and what stage of your preparation you're at.



As you know, the heart is the absolute key to cycling performance. Strengthening your heart has the beneficial effect of significantly improving your performance. The most effective way of increasing your cardiac capacity remains the accumulation of positive elevation (cycling uphill). Scaling slopes and cols will multiply the effects of your training - and, of course, the difficulty. And if you don't happen to live in the Alps, no need to panic! Just find a significant slope (1 or 2 km) and climb it several times during your outing. You can do your specific work exercises as you cycle up the slope to amplify the results.

So now you have all the tools you need to structure your cycling preparation properly so as to be ready on the big day. Proper preparation for the cycling leg will ensure you enjoy your triathlon. Beyond that, it's up to you to make sure you don't get too carried away beating your cycling records; just remember to save some energy for the next leg!

Happily cycling to you all!!!




I've been a fan of triathlon for 5 ans, doing long distance, L and XL triathlons. I'm a member of the AMSLF Triathlon Club in Fréjus. A few of my moments of glory: Ironman 70.3 Aix en Provence, Polar international triathlon in Cannes, Embrunman… As a seasoned cyclist and less-than-mediocre swimmer, what I love about triathlon is pushing myself to my limits and beyond!